The Life of an Independent Instructor

Article By Ryan Vickers

I loved watching scuba diving movies and TV shows when I was a kid. However, my days got instantly better when I saw there was a rerun of Flipper on the local kids’ cable channel or there was a Cousteau documentary available at the local video rental store (and it should be noted that I rented it so often that the owner was not surprised that I bought the tape when they

were selling off stock years later).


What I really wanted to do was learn how to scuba dive and maybe, just maybe, make it my career.


It has been over a decade since I became an instructor, and I’ve had the pleasure of teaching many wonderful students since my certification. Here are some things I’ve learned over the years that I think you may find helpful. First off, before you start or return to teaching, make sure your education is up to par with your agency’s current expectations. You may remember back to your open water course when you spent an entire evening just learning about the inner ear and its workings – some core elements have likely been adjusted to be a bit more simplified. This is not to say that the work has been “dumbed down” but rather has been re-focused with the knowledge that there are many different identified learners that exist today. Taking some time to read through policies and procedures is a must-do. Also, please ensure that you are a current licensed instructor with your agency. “But I renewed last year!” is a cry you might hear from others; it is possible that last year was three years ago.



In addition, you need to be certain that you have current insurance. This is a “must-do” because you need to be covered in case something goes wrong. You may think you know your course

curriculum upside down and backwards and that scuba diving is the sport with the most redundancy you’ve ever seen, but at the end of the day, you likely wouldn’t drive a car without insurance either. Yes, it will cost you money, but it is cheaper than the person that will pursue you in litigation or even the fees you will spend defending yourself.


Next, take some time to get to know your students and their environment. What is their motivation for taking the course? Why do they want to learn to scuba dive? Is this part of a bigger plan for future “worldwide scuba domination”? By understanding these things, you’ll likely have a great success rate with your students, and they’re more likely to be engaged. Finally, make sure to get to know the environment in which your students are taking the course – are the confined water sessions in a public or a private pool? When they are going to do their open water dives; is it far away? Do they need to book a place to stay overnight? Are there places to hang their gear?


Furthermore, it’s worth reviewing the way the students will learn their theory or their “dry-land” information. While in the past, you may have done this in a classroom, the likelihood now is the fact that they are completing a large portion of it through an e-learning platform. Therefore, you must be comfortable with the material and its delivery online because you can guarantee that your students will have some questions! If students have questions that you can’t answer, be honest and say that you’ll get back to them as soon as you can find the response needed.


You can plainly see that even before we get in the water, there is a lot of preparation. However, another key thing needs to be organized – equipment. As an independent instructor, you may be limited in how much gear you have at your disposal. Make sure there is a local shop where you can rent the appropriate pieces. Perhaps you can even build a relationship with them to get a discount on the most frequently rented gear. It may also be possible to arrange where you receive a percentage of any purchases your students make in the store.


Finally, it’s time to get in the water. You’ve mapped everything out, and (ideally) the students have completed the e-learning in full. Make sure that you have booked your water time as need be and, if your budget allows, try and be flexible so if a student needs extra time in the water, it is something you can allow. It’s good to realize that not every student will get every skill perfectly 100% of the time, so make sure your lessons allow for flexibility of repetition.


Now we move on to the open water checkout dives. While you are likely teaching the class alone, this would be an ideal time to recruit someone that you know to assist you who is at the Divemaster level or above. When taking my instructor course, I was taught that you should, if possible, have someone on your “six.” This means that if you need an extra hand when conducting the open water dives – specifically with skills such as mask replacement and alternate air sources – so that if something doesn’t go according to plan you’ve got another professional to help.


Congratulations! Your students have completed their confined water sessions, their open water checkout dives and their theory work. All that is left is to sign them off for their certification. Take some time not only to inform them about higherlevel courses (such as advanced with a possibility of further advancement) but to make sure they have your contact info. Getting them to return for additional courses with you will help pay the bills!

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